Very often I like to think of the writing worlds as a swamp.
A big swamp infested with crocodiles and quicksand and rattlesnakes, and deep in the heart of the swamp is buried treasure. And of course the new author is like an intrepid explorer, foraying into that swamp with a single purpose, to retrieve the treasure. That’s where the analogy breaks down. But new writers have to jump into the swamp.
You see, the treasure comes when you get a huge contract as a new super-lead author and have a publisher who invests millions to publish and advertise your book. Then you can make millions of dollars on one book, the way that Rowling did with Harry Potter or Meyer did with Twilight.
But very often I meet new writers who head into that swamp, carrying their automatic rifles and wearing their Indiana Jones hats, with the idea of bringing back . . . a rattlesnake. Oh, that snake might call himself an agent, but I recognize him immediately as a snake.
You see, the agent (or publisher) is a nobody.
Maybe her name is Aunt Bea, and she’s from Mayberry, West Virginia. She has no contacts in the book world, and she represents authors who self-publish sixty-three kinds of porn, and she wants to collect such authors and unite them all under her publishing company.
In reality this nobody agent has nothing to offer a new author. Like small publishers that have no marketing power, they really can’t help anyone. So there is no use in being tied to one. In fact, maybe a rattlesnake is a bad comparison. These agents and publishers are more like leeches, sucking all of the vital fluids out of their authors.
Sometimes the treasures that we seek are really rather petty. I know authors who yearn to win minor awards or the praise of another writer.
And we experienced authors aren’t much help to the new authors. Many authors don’t know what the treasure is or where it lies. You see, there are gold and silver nuggets in that swamp, and many authors have found one or two and think that those are the treasure.
Indeed, no two authors ever follow the same career path.
We start out in different places on the outskirts of the swamp and blaze our own trails. I started out as a prize-writer, winning little writing contest in college until I won a big one, which launched my career. So you’d think that I’d be telling everyone to go out and win writing contests to get their start. But I’m very aware that I’m the only person I know of who has done it that way.
So we as authors stand at the edge of the swamp and shout confusing directions to the new authors, “Go left!” “Go right!” “Now wiggle your butt!” “Dig there!” “Watch out for the piranhas!”
So even if the new authors listen, the advice might not be up-to-date. You see, the swamp changes. Old quicksand holes dry up. The gators dig new wallows. Rattlesnakes find new breeding grounds. And the treasure gets moved around by will-o’ -the-wisps. Advice that once seemed sound might not be good anymore.
So what is an author to do?
- Recognize that there are big treasures out in the publishing world, and learn what you are hunting for.
- Study how others found their treasure.
- To dig up that treasure, you’re going to need a strong back and the right tools. Develop your own strategies and skills.
- Don’t obsess with following outdated plans. Your audience wants you to be uniquely you.
- Don’t hope to get lucky. People who wait around for enormous checks to arrive will wait forever. It’s more probable that you can make millions of dollars than that some fool publisher will just give you millions in unearned income.
- Learn to love what you do!
Meanwhile, I’m going to go back out in the swamp to work on my next novel. Meet you at the treasure hole!
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